Democracy – I : Draco’s Contributions

In first part of our series, we discussed about what is democracy,how it evolved and its acceptance in almost every part of the world as an ideal form of government. In this part we will start with the history of democracy from its inception in Greece and talk about its development.

There were many ‘Poleis’ (which means cities in Greek) where democracy existed but Athenian democracy is the most popular of them as historians have found many evidences about it.  The Athenian democracy at heart was a direct democracy where citizens directly used to cast their votes for  various legislative bills and executive orders. Although people were allowed to vote, only adult male who owned a piece of land were legal to vote. Women and slaves were deprived of these rights. Athenian democracy flourished under various leaders like Pericles, Solon, Cleisthenes, Ephialtes.  But Draco is the most important of them all as it all started with him.

Carving_of_Draco_Lawgiver_in_US_Supreme_Court_library

Draco was the first legislator of Athens who was chosen by the people of Athens. There are few records about his life. But most of the historians suggests that he lived between 650 – 600 B.C. The most significant contribution of Draco for Democracy is that he obliterated the system of oral law and codified the laws that should be enforced by the court. The laws that he created was the “first written constitution of Athens”.

Draco’s laws were very harsh. Death Penalty was a very common punishment. Death Penalty was often enforced for very insensible and minor crimes like ‘Stealing a cabbage’. His very well-known law is Homicide law. Draco being a smart law-maker was very thoughtful about the difference between voluntary homicide and involuntary homicide. Voluntary homicide by definition, is a murder committed intentionally while involuntary homicide is also unlawful killing of a person but without any prejudice or forethought.

Draco’s homicide law said ‘It’s up to victim’s family whether to prosecute the killer or not’. And in the case of involuntary homicide sentence of exile was enforced. Due to harshness of his laws, even today we describe any unfair rule or law by the modifier ‘Draconian’.  All these laws were later revoked by a wise legislator Solon (We will see about him in more detail in the next article).

In the later part of his life, Draco,due to his harsh and harmful laws, was driven out to Aegina by Athenians where he lived for rest of his life. A folk suggests that in an Aeginetan theatre audience threw so many hats, clothes and cloaks on Draco’s head to show their appreciation that he suffocated to death under that burden and was buried in the same theatre.

So here we end part of Draco.Don’t forget to write your comments and stay tuned for Solon’s episode in the next article of the series!!!

© Anup Shaha and Shreyas Godbole 

 

 

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